Baroque (any!) music doesn't care about your chops (Road Diary #2)

(Metal waiting to be joyously reunited with my face) 08/05/2016 (Happy Anniversary, Alicia!)

Know a serious trumpeter? You probably know someone consistently neurotic about the idea of a "warmup" and how important it is to their "chops".

My experience tells me that baroque music generally gives zero $h!ts has little concern regarding a trumpeter's chop comfort. Don't ask baroque music how it feels about your warmup. It doesn't care.

Trumpet playing is not a comfortable proposition: trapping the lips between the teeth and a metal ring-shaped cup in order to make music. It's not natural. Warming up eases one's face into the discomfort associated with playing difficult repertoire. It reestablishes flexibility. Feel. Response. Ease. It lessens the stiffness left from last night's four hour horn-band gig. Or a Mahler symphony. Or a second line parade.

It greases the mechanism. Allows, to some extent, the physical sensation of playing to drop away while the mind focuses on musical intention. I consistently warm up, as the positive effects last well throughout the remaining day. Still, there is a difference between "warmup" and "playing warm". This distinction is sometimes lost on younger and/or inexperienced trumpeters. 

We have to deal with playing "cold". Orchestral gigs. Church gigs. Wedding gigs. It's part of the job. Sometimes life casts disaster in front of you and you miss a warmup altogether. Car trouble or heavy traffic force one to be late to gig: No warmup. Sick offspring: No warmup. Laziness: No warmup. Donuts and coffe in the green room: No warmup. Other times, you warm up but have extended time between warmup and performance... forcing "coldness" upon your chops. Playing cold is a reality: warmup or no warmup. 

I find it to be the rule, not the exception, in orchestral baroque music. 

I think back to last night's rehearsal of Purcell's "Fairy Queen". The approximate timeline might look like this (if my memory serves me well):

  • Arrive at 6:30 - Warmup
  • 7 pm - Rehearsal starts (a run through of the opera)
  • 7:20 pm - Play the 5th movement (the first time trumpets play in the Opera)
  • 7:30 pm - play the  12th Movement
  • 8:15 pm - Intermission - attempt to play a bit to "keep warm" ... shushed while more important other instrumental sections work out things still not prepared well enough for performance. 
  • 8:30 pm - play rigorous 30th movement to open the second half of the opera
  • 8:40 pm - play the 39th movement
  • 8:45 pm - play brief 45th movement
  • 9:15 pm - play short, but exposed, 51st movement
  • 9:45pm - play movement 59

At no point during that rehearsal did the trumpets start a movement with "warm" chops. The timing of the individual movements did not allow it. "Fairy Queen" is, by many accounts, an easier work for the baroque trumpet (I mostly agree). Bach's Mass in B-minor has similar extended breaks followed by incredibly strenuous and virtuosic writing for the trumpets. Messiah, too. Easter Oratorio. Christmas Oratorio. Cantatas. Magnificat. Operas.  

They all throw you in the deep end. A life preserver, emblazoned with "playing warm" in big red letters, is never provided. 

I've only found a few things that help one deal with the physical discomfort; 1) practice playing "cold" a lot and 2) keep the mouthpiece/horn physically warm by cupping it in your hand and blowing warm air through it before having to play. Mentally, when cold, I simply try to concentrate on the musical line as well as the "blowing" and devote as little mental energy to the chop discomfort as possible. With time, it becomes normal and the associated anxiety disappears lessens. For me, the lovely musical experience makes the discomfort worthwhile. 

So, moral of the story? I'm not sure there is one. Maybe: Warm or Cold? Doesn't matter. Either way, you gotta make it work.

-Shelby